Dylan Landis & Mary Otis

There are plenty of reasons to mention Dylan Landis and Mary Otis in the same breath. Both write wonderful short stories–dense with careful language, close observation, complex emotion, and a certain mystery. Both were mentored by much-loved teacher, writer, and Santa Monica Review founder Jim Krusoe. Both have connections to Tin House magazine: Mary’s 2007 collection Yes, Yes, Cherries was published by their book division; and the magazine was an early believer in Dylan’s work, publishing two of the stories from her recent collection, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. And the two will appear together, Thurs Nov. 19, 7pm at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.

I’ve been fortunate to become friends with both, and asked them to write a little about the other and throw in some choice quotes from the other’s work:

  • Dylan on Mary: The first thing I love about each story Mary Otis writes is that it breathes: her sentences have the same cadences, nervous laughs and tiny stunned silences as her characters–her inner ear is that finely tuned. A second thing I love is that her people get things wrong while trying to get them right; it can leave you weeping, especially in a story like “Unstruck.” A third thing I love is that whatever she describes, it’s always fabulously unfamiliar, as if you’ve never quite seen the world before.
  • A Mary Otis sampler: Then he kisses her and her insides unfurl, suddenly beautiful, like a lush bolt of fabric thrown out upon a table (from “Unstruck”). / A woman wearing a business suit hurried by, pulling a piece of luggage that was stamped Useless if Delayed (a passer-by at an airport, from “Triage”). / Iris pretends to wash the pavement with her hair (a frustrated child in “Five-Minute Hearts”).
  • Mary on Dylan: There are many things I love about Dylan Landis’ writing, but particularly the blend of elegance and danger. Emotion in her stories is always beneath the surface. Her prose causes me great delight–the beauty of her word choices, her unique and compelling character descriptions. Dylan once mentioned to me something about not starting to describe something until she can “see the grout in the tiles.” I love that, and it’s evident in her writing. Dylan looks long and deep at things, and the precision of her description floors me.
  • A Dylan Landis sampler: The Gospel of Angeline Yost is graven into desks with house keys and the blood of Bics; it is written in the glances of girls—low arcs of knowing that span the hallways and ping off the metal lockers (from “Rana Fegrina”). / She had the clipped walk of a person who pared herself to the essentials: muscle, bone, an eye for quality, calcium tablets for the nails, one pair of pumps, polished (from “Normal People Don’t Live Like This”). / Leah, home from school early, caught her mother in the act—fingers rustling in a Whitman’s Sampler, the box all bristly with pleated cups (from “Hate”).

If for some reason you can’t catch this must-attend reading, Dylan is doing two other readings this week: Tues 11/17 7pm at Cal State Long Beach (click on her name above for info); and then Sun 11/22 4pm at Village Books in Pacific Palisades (which includes a discussion on mother/daughter issues such as eating disorders, divorce, and teenage sex).

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love the ‘unfurling’… and the thickness of the chocolate description. Wish I could have gone! Was it great?

  2. It was great, Tom!
    Scott, thank you for this generous posting, and for giving Mary and me the space to talk here about each other’s work. That was a real pleasure. Hope your own work is going well.

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